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Arthur Andersen Case Goes To Jury

The jury has gotten the case in Arthur Andersen's obstruction of justice trial, capping weeks of testimony and arguments that provided an inside look at the biggest corporate collapse in the nation's history.

U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon sent the case to a jury of nine men and three women, who were to begin deliberations Thursday in a trial that has reached the one-month mark.

If convicted, Andersen faces fines and would be barred from auditing public companies. More than 650 of its 2,300 clients already have fired the firm, most since the indictment was unsealed March 14.

Arthur Andersen is accused of shredding reams of Enron-related documents last year as the government investigated the energy trader's accounting practices. Enron went bankrupt Dec. 2 and employees and investors lost millions of dollars as its stock plummeted.

During closing arguments, Andersen's lead defense attorneys said federal prosecutors were bent on a "rush to judgment" and stopped at nothing to topple the humbled accounting firm.

"What's happened here is the most incredible tragedy and rush to judgment I hope you ever have the misfortune of being exposed to," Andersen attorney Rusty Hardin said.

Prosecutors said Andersen's scramble to shred Enron-related documents was a calculated effort to prepare for lawsuits and criminal probes.

"They were getting ready to deal with the (Securities and Exchange Commission) and the investors who would sue them," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Buell told jurors. "They were girding for the Enron wars."

In their four hours of closing arguments, prosecutors laboriously connected the dots of their case against Andersen and the four people they contend led an effort to wipe out documentation ahead of a feared Securities and Exchange Commission investigation.

Prosecutors said Enron audit leader David Duncan, who pleaded guilty to obstruction and testified against Andersen in a deal with the Justice Department, "corruptly persuaded" others to improperly destroy documents along with in-house lawyer Nancy Temple and Houston partners Michael Odom and Thomas Bauer.

But Hardin said that while Duncan declared, "I obstructed justice," in nearly a week of testimony, he decided he had committed a crime only following several meetings with prosecutors months after the shredding.

By Mark Babineck

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